Those who want to use government to protect us from ourselves are often well-intentioned, but in the process they can pose dangers to personal liberties and the freedom to make one’s own choices. A current example that seems almost designed to lead to overbroad restrictions is HR 207, which would give the U.S. attorney general the power to place immediate chemical precursors of an anabolic steroid on the list of drugs regulated by the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act.
The intention is to protect vulnerable teenagers from the dangers not only of anabolic steroids — which when used in large quantities can have side effects including enlarged breasts and shrunken testicles in males and are already on the controlled substances list — but of substances like androstenedione, which is banned by several professional sports leagues but is available over the counter as a supposed muscle-building supplement.
It is dubious whether the federal government should even have put steroids on the controlled-substances list. Athletic organizations like the NCAA, NFL and the Olympic Committee have the right to make their own decisions about whether those competing under their auspices are allowed to use steroids. But different people have different values. Some are willing to take health risks to have big muscles. They may be foolish, but adults in a free society have a right to be foolish.
That may be a moot point since steroids are already on the controlled substance list. HR 207 would expand government control over steroid precursors. The target is adrostenedione, probably because its possible use by prominent athletes has made headlines. But it might sweep widely used dietary supplements like DHEA and pregnenolone into the controlled substance control regime.
Here’s how: It would authorize the attorney general to designate “the immediate chemical precursor of an anabolic steroid … which either is a metabolite of a scheduled anabolic steroid or is transformed in the body directly into a scheduled anabolic steroid or the metabolite.” It goes further. Once a precursor is designated it immediately becomes a controlled substance and the attorney general can schedule the precursor of that substance … and on and on.
DHEA, a widely used antioxidant, is a precursor of androstenedione. Pregenolone, which many women find preferable to synthetic hormone treatments, is a precursor of DHEA.
The coalition promoting HR 207 says it is a myth that the bill would make supplements unavailable since “the attorney general must take the affirmative step of scheduling the drug.” This is hardly reassuring. The attorney general is not a scientist or a health practitioner, and there is no requirement in the bill that his decision be subject to scientific oversight or review. The notion that decisions about health should be made by law enforcement officers is pernicious — and already too widespread in our society.
We encourage teenagers not to use anabolic steroids and adults to be extremely careful about anything they ingest. But HR 207 is regulatory overkill.